Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Galway Kinnell was educated at Princeton and the University of Rochester. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1945-1946 and then went on to do civil rights field work in Louisiana for the Congress on Racial Equality. Although he has written poems on contemporary topics like the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the struggle for civil rights, and the long tragedy of the Vietnam war, he has also returned repeatedly and in different guises to take up the subject of transcendence in the midst of mortality, a concern apparent in both "The Porcupine" and "The Bear," both taken from his 1968 volume Body Rags. His first book, What a Kingdom It Was (1960), had a strong component of secularized Christianity, still apparent in the sacramental mood of the poems reprinted here. But now it is not so much oneness with God as oneness with nature and the primal rhythms of birth and death that the speaker seeks. His book-length poem sequence, The Book of Nightmares (1978), is perhaps his masterpiece.
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